Courtney Schuster first crossed paths with faith-focused fitness instructor Kristy Lair several years ago via a work engagement.
“It was a moment I feel was orchestrated by God,” said Schuster, who developed a friendship with Lair that allowed her to open up about a variety of internal struggles.
“I was having issues with trying to be healthy, and she presented the idea of me working with her,” she said. “The thing that Kristy has done that made a real difference right away is that it isn’t just about a workout and strength training. Yes, when I meet with her I do a strength training, but the entire time we are talking about faith, about how God wants us to be healthy and she has really helped me with the mental aspect of bettering myself.”
A focus on faith
Lair is a 20-year veteran of the fitness industry, but in the beginning, her focus was solely on the physical aspect.
“Once I brought the God piece into this and stopped keeping the faith separate from the fitness, that is when things really changed for me and my clients,” Lair said. “There are so many elements to fitness beyond losing weight, what you look like or other surface-level things.”
Lair knows this from first-hand experience.
“I didn’t have a whole lot worth and value inside of me as a young teen. It can be easy to let societal pressures dictate your life,” she said. “I struggled with multiple eating disorders and disordered eating problems. There can be so many addictions, like sugar addictions, and I went through each of them — each another battle to fight and overcome.”
She only found resolution to her struggles by strengthening her faith.
“I learned to rediscover my identity in the Lord — that He provides the worth and value that I was lacking — by realizing my role as a child of God,” she said. “I learned to look at myself the way He sees me, not via the skewed lenses of society. Once you are rooted in Him, you can work through the rest of the baggage.”
Schuster admitted the formula has worked for her.
“By working with Kristy, I was able to see that God had a lot of internal work to do within me in order to have a lasting outward change,” she said. “I had done all the diets, lost weight, gained it back and lost fitness in the process. But I wasn’t addressing the internal issues, and that is what it takes to have a true outward change.
“I found that for physical fitness to work, you first need to handle the addiction or other bondage issue in your life. Whatever you are a slave to — that takes you away from Christ — that is where you need to start. Once I allowed God to work on the inside, I was at peace with what I was on the outside.”
Among the important lessons Schuster received from Lair was the first piece of advice she received upon starting the program.
“I learned not to label certain foods as good or bad. I had spent a lot of time dieting in the past, and you learn that depending on the diet, a certain food may be good or bad. The problem begins when you start labeling yourself good or bad based on the types of foods you eat,” she said. “Food is food … it isn’t necessarily good or bad, you just have to understand what it does to our bodies and what we need to do in response to that.”
Another life-changing lesson came when Schuster showed up to a session particularly down and negative about herself.
“I couldn’t get out of the rut. I kept calling myself fat and pathetic,” she remembered. “Kristy sat with me during that and spoke truth over me, and it really helped me replace those negative thoughts with the truth — with what God sees in me. He would never call me fat. Another trick she shared is treating yourself how you would treat a friend — I would never say that sort of stuff to a friend. Over time, that became a habit that I have incorporated, and it helps me manage my thoughts.”
Full picture of wellness
Lair stresses the importance of mind, body and spirit as the full picture of wellness, making every effort to use her own struggles and God’s work in her life to empathize and connect with others through her business/ministry: Kickstart Fitness for Women.
“Most people I encounter have an issue with food whether they realize it or not,” Lair said. “Part of the program is to process what traumas have happened for that person and what is causing the emotional distress. We look at how we can start healing some of those wounds so that there is room for new, healthy habits to take root.”
Her goal with each client is not to reach a certain body weight or create a specific look, but truly embracing a healthy lifestyle.
“It means allowing your body to be who you were created to be,” Lair said.
It starts up front with a consultation, determining the “why behind the what” of goals the client wants to achieve.
“Is that person going through depression or a loss in the family? What hardship is she facing? It’s about creating a relationship with each client and truly understanding where each is coming from,” said Lair. “Then we discuss what a fitness program can look like, what the nutrition aspect of the program looks like. How can I help them not be as stressed out, sleep better and create healthier relationships with others?”
‘Possible for everyone’
Beyond individual programs, Lair offers mother-daughter programs and group fitness classes.
“It helps for some when they work out together, they find that bond that helps them be successful,” she said.
Lair strives to work with anyone who truly wants to improve her life.
“It helps to realize that some form of working out is possible for everyone. I have worked with people with all sorts of limitations, including one with spina bifida,” she said. “I try to individualize it and come up with a program that works for each person. That could simply include 5-10 minutes of work a day — for some that can be a great goal and celebrated. It doesn’t necessarily need to be an hour in the gym every day.”
It all comes back to overcoming the adversity within by latching onto and following a faith in God, Lair emphasized.
“That hope is what can keep us going. There have been so many reasons I should have quit over the years. My feet have been completely knocked out from under me,” she said, referencing a recent house fire and a 2018 flooding of her business. “Yet, when I look back, I realize God has His hand on everything because He has a goal for me, to humble me so I can truly help others. My faith has helped me get through so much, and I am at a place where I am led to help others develop the same reassurance in Him.”
Schuster appreciates Lair’s commitment to helping women like herself.
“She helped me get to a point that when I look in a mirror and feel that I am overweight, that is not a sign there is something negative about me – I just haven’t treated myself in a healthy way,” she said. “I don’t need to shame myself. Instead, it is about turning the reins over to God, following His guidance and then things start to really happen.”
Lair’s Kickstart Fitness for Women studio is along Route 405 near Watsontown. She also has partnered with the Well Fit gym at the Christ Wesleyan Church near Milton. For more information about Lair’s program, visit www.kickstartfitnessforwomen.com.